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Dereference Theory of Consciousness

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Draft 1.1

IMO machine consciousness will ultimately prove to be an oxymoron, but if we did want to look for consciousness analogs in machine behavior, here is an idea that occurred to me recently:

Look for nested dereferencing, i.e. places where persistent information processing structures load real-time sense data about the loading of all-time sense data.

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At the intersection of philosophy of mind, computer science, and quantum mechanics is the problem of instantiating awareness. What follows is an attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the significance of dereferencing and how it applies to integration of information and the quantum measurement problem. This is a broad conjecture about the nature of sensation as it pertains to the function of larger information processes, with an eye toward defining and identifying specific neuroscientific or cognitive signatures to correlate with conscious activity.

A dereference event can be thought of as the precise point in which a system that is designed or evolved to expect a range of inputs receives the real input itself. This sentence, for example, invites an expectation of a terminal clause, the terms of which are expected to be English words which are semantically linked to the rest of the sentence. English grammar provides templates of possible communication, but the actual communication relies on specific content to fill in those forms. The ability to parse English communication can be simulated by unconscious, rule-based mechanisms, however, I suggest that the ability to understand that communication involves a rule-breaking replacement of an existing parse theory with empirical, semantic fact. The structure of a language, its dictionary etc, is a reference body for timeless logic structures. Its purpose is to enable a channel for sending, receiving, and modifying messages which pertain to dereferenced events in real time. It is through the contact with real time sense events that communication channels can develop in the first place, and to continue to self modify.

What is proposed here is an alternative to Multi-World Interpretation of Quantum Wave Function collapse – an inversion of the fundamental assumption in which all possible phenomena diverge or diffract within a single context of concretely sensed events. The wave function collapse in this view is not the result of a measurement of what is already objectively ‘out there’, nor is it the creation of objective reality by subjective experiences ‘in here’, but a quantized return to an increasingly ‘re-contextualized’ state. A perpetual and unpredictable re-acquaintance with unpredictable re-acquaintance.

In programmatic terms, the variable *p is dereferenced to the concrete value (*p = “the current temperature”, dereferenced p = “is now 78 degrees Fahrenheit″). To get to a better model of conscious experience (and I think that this this plugs into Orch OR, IIT, Interface Theory, and Global Workspace), we should look at the nested or double dereferencing operation. The dereferencing of dereferencing (**p) is functionally identical to awareness of awareness or perception of perception. In the *p = “the current temperature” example, **p is “the current check of the current check of the temperature”. This not only points us to the familiar Strange loop models of consciousness, but extends the loop outward to the environment and the environment into the loop. Checking the environment of the environmental check is a gateway to veridical perception. The loop modifies its own capacity for self-modification.

Disclaimer: This description of consciousness as meta-dereferencing is intended as a metaphor only. In my view, information processing cannot generate conscious experience, however, conscious experience can possibly be better traced by studying dereferencing functions. This view differs from Gödel sentences or strange loops in that those structures refer to reference (This sentence is true) while the dereference loop specifically points away from pointers, rules, programs, formal systems, etc and toward i/o conditioning of i/o conditions. This would be a way for information-theoretic principles to escape the nonlocality of superposition and access an inflection point for authentic realization (in public space-time as shared experience). “Bing” = **Φ. In other words, by dereferencing dereference, the potentially concrete is made truly concrete. Sense experience is embodied as stereo-morphic tangible realism and tangible realism is disembodied as a sense of fact-gathering about sensed fact-gatherings.

Dereference theory is an appeal to anti-simulation ontology. Because this description of cognition implicates nested input/output operations across physically or qualitatively *real* events, the subjective result is a reduced set of real sense conditions rather than confabulated, solipsistic phenomenology. The subjective sense condition does not refer only to private or generic labels within a feed-forward thinking mechanism, but also to a model-free foundation and genuine sensitivity of the local ‘hardware’ to external conditions in the public here-and-now. This sensitivity can be conceived initially as universal property of some or all physical substrates (material panpsychism), however, I think that it is vital to progress beyond this assumption toward a nondual fundamental awareness view. In other words, subjective consciousness is derived from a dereference of a local inertial frame of expectation to a universal inertial frame of unprecedented novelties which decay as repetition. Each event is instantiated as an eternally unique experience, but propagated as repetitive/normalized translations in every other frame of experience. That propagation is the foundation for causality and entropy.

What’s the Biological Use of Consciousness?

June 25, 2016 4 comments

My answer to a Quora question.

This question sounds reasonable only when we have first assumed that consciousness evolved from biology. I would argue that while it certainly seems that consciousness has become richer and more complex through biological forms and functions, there can be no biological use for consciousness itself.

Consider the practical function of the human body. What does it need to do that other bodies don’t? Everything from a mosquito to a mountain lion has similar biological imperatives and evolutionary pressures to contend with. For that matter, every one celled organism or even DNA molecule functions in the same way – it survives and reproduces. Whether these structures feel like they are trying to survive and reproduce is irrelevant. I’ll say that again, because it is that important:

It cannot matter biologically whether a given structure feels, thinks, senses, or has any experience at all, and to assume it does would be a logical fallacy:

petitio principii, which actually translates as ‘assuming the initial point’”.

The initial point here is the existence of consciousness itself. When we assume that it exists, we are compelled to fill in our explanation with a “Just-so story”; an ad hoc, unfalsifiable hypothesis which will give rationalize a connection between our initial assumptions of biology without consciousness and consciousness arising out of utility to biology.

We might speculate that consciousness was bestowed upon Homo sapiens (gradually of course) as a cause or effect of the success of the species in adapting to more ecological niches than others. We might say that there was a feedback loop between consciousness, self-awareness, intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge and technology to better ensure survival in almost any climate and against almost any predator. This is a good story, and it makes sense if we make the mistake of equating intelligence with consciousness. It is easy to make that mistake, since we are conscious and find it difficult to separate our experience of knowing and surviving from the actual behaviors which our body is performing to accomplish that.

This logical error was articulated very nicely by Dr. Raymond Tallis, in his book Aping Mankind. He talks about the difference between the ‘retrospective’ view of consciousness, which I was just describing, where we assume that consciousness exists and then try to justify its origin in pre-conscious phenomena and the correct ‘prospective’ view of consciousness which requires us to adhere to our hypothesis of pre-consciousness from the start. Without the appearances that we are accustomed from our own consciousness, we find the universe which physics and biology give to us is devoid of any appearance at all. Blind mechanisms are literally that – chain reactions of cause and effect which occur by physical law and statistical probability: Nothing more.

From here, we are compelled to negate our previous story which links intelligence with consciousness and see that the whole notion of ‘intelligence’ is a conceit of consciousness, and that any intelligence which hypothetically developed in the absence of consciousness would be just another sophisticated-looking chain reaction of nature. The appearance of sophistication is, again, purely subjective and dependent upon some conscious framing of the appearance. To us, a large organic molecule seems impressive, but since physics can have no preferred frame of reference, there is no appearance of a molecule, only one generic atom and then another one, and another. Each one unaware of anything, and nothing aware of an overall ‘grouping’ of atoms.

As long as we begin from any structure which functions in the total absence of sensory experience, there can be no logical justification for the possibility of sensory experience as a physical function. If a human zygote can already build a living brain, not to mention an immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, etc, all without any conscious experience at all, then what sense does it make to expect that ordinary tasks of animal survival and reproduction should benefit functionally from the addition of some kind of unexplainable metaphysical hallucination?

This is not an argument for Creationism*. Far from it. To me the idea of a single conscious creator has the same problem that Materialism has, only seen from the other way around. God has to be conscious, and God cannot create his own consciousness, so unless consciousness automatically comes with the sense of self, it seems more plausible to me that God, gods, people, and things are all dependent on a phenomenal substrate which transcends all others – beyond space and time, beyond order and entropy, beyond probability or improbability there must be sense experience…a phenomenon in which all phenomena perceive and participate directly.

It may not seem that way to us, from our limited scope of human consciousness, because our lifetimes are so short and our instants of perception are so long relative to biology and physics, but I think that it is the case that on some frame of reference, all phenomena is purely experiential. Consciousness is using biology, not the other way around. Biology is like physics squared, with each living organism its own recapitulation of the big bang, standing in absolute contrast to its inorganic origins, connected to the totality of experience by food, water, light, and each other. This is not to say that “a rock is conscious” but rather that we perceive a rock from a biased set of reports from our human body. We are seeing a fragment of mineral residue from what would be, on a geological or astrophysical scale of time and space, a musical fireworks show of stellar-planetary animation. It’s all about frames of reference, but taken in a new way which sees reference and relativity not as framed by mathematical relations, but of perceptual gymnastics on a scale which extends well beyond biology or even ‘reality’.

*If people do prefer to think of Consciousness as intrinsically God-like, I can’t rule it out. Maybe consciousness-with-self-hood simply is the empirical fact, like the color red, without precedent or logic. That could just be the way that it is in all possible universes, that consciousness is personality who thinks and acts.

Relying on logic instead, my conclusion would be that while God or gods could be real to human experience (by way of higher consciousness that is more deeply connected with the cosmological scales of time, using metaphor to communicate with its time-spliced version of itself), they are more likely to have evolved as a reflection of zoology. In a universe made of conscious experience, the experience of the organism which moves itself around the world of other organisms and non-organisms would have a good reason to conceive of itself as a self, and of its deepest connection to eternal experience as a super-self, hero, polytheistic god or monotheistic God.

For those who prefer to think of nature as Godless, the sense-first view can be understood to introduce a third cosmological form of expression, a fundamental one from which the other two cosmological platforms of physical forms and logical functions diverge as experienced time, rather than emerge in a pre-existing context of space-time. It’s a flipping over of the foundations of our cosmology, so that quantum theory and relativity, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology all represent incomplete views of nature that we have developed out of fragmentation of our understanding into extremely specialized sciences.

The one common denominator of all of our modern approaches is that they share the same blind spot for our own native human frame of awareness. We have stenciled an outline of our own image out of the conspicuous absence of it in the stars, the neurons, and the laws of information and physics. In my view, the way forward is to perform a Copernican inversion on our worldview…not returning to a pre-scientific anthropomorphism, but to explain both anthropomorphism and its now dominant opposite (I call it mechanemorphism) in a deeper context of sense and sense-making. Once we engage in this symmetry objectively, i.e., to see the intrinsic subjectivity in objectivity and objectivity in subjectivity, then a lot of things fall into place, including this perilously transformative time in human history.

Hyper-Mentalism and Supernatural Belief

May 24, 2015 2 comments

This article from Psychology Today, Hyper-Mentalism, Hyper-Empathizing, and Supernatural Belief, talks about the diametric model’s explanation of the psychotic end of the autistic-psychotic spectrum.

“To use an analogy, the diametric model implies that we live in parallel mentalistic and mechanistic universes, with mental causality ruling the first and physical causality the second. Religious, superstitious, and magical thinking clearly represent an encroachment of the mental world on the real one in the form of belief in divine creation, miracles, the power of prayers and spells, and so on. Indeed, as I pointed out in an earlier post, you could see traditional religion and superstition as the result of a primeval mentalistic inflation which hyper-mentalized the real world, in part because mechanistic understanding of it in the form of modern science, medicine, and technology had not had time to develop. Furthermore, you could also see this as the paradigmatic historical case of a “combination of strong mentalizing coupled with poor understanding of the physical world.”

In my view, this is very close to the hypothesis that has been developed under the Multisense Continuum or ACME/OMMM model.

The diametric model deserves more attention, in my view, however I think that the assumptions behind the model are themselves biased toward the systemizing/mechanistic end of the spectrum. Note the language in the quote above: “Religious, superstitious, and magical thinking clearly represent an encroachment of the mental world on the real one“. Highly subjective states are identified as being intrinsically unreal rather than being an extension of nature and reality. The end of that quote shows another good example of the mechanistic worldview, associating superstition with “poor understanding of the physical world.” I would not deny that there are many people who do suffer from a poor understanding of the physical world and compensate for that to some extent with magical thinking, however, that correlation does not always hold true. Many people, such as myself, embrace the physical world and have an excellent understanding of it, yet see that behind and beyond mechanistic appearances are also more subtle natural phenomena. It is not that the psychotic is poorly equipped for reality, it is more like reality poorly equipped to contain psychotic hyper-sensitivities. This is not to say that paranoid schizophrenics are right about the content of their delusions, only that the form of paranoid delusions reflect (in a distorted way) the transpersonal territory of the psyche.

In the short article linked above, the author makes the distinction between his diametric model and “Simon Baron-Cohen’s rival scheme, which has systemizing versus empathizing instead of the diametric model’s mechanistic versus mentalistic cognitive dualism”. Here again, the distinction between empathizing and mentalistic is itself a mechanizing/systemizing distinction. Both the diametric model and empathizing-systemizing model label the ‘feminine’ side in terms of a personal function. The former sees empathy as a cognitive skill, while the latter seems to suggest that it is overdeveloped empathy which interferes with the correct application of cognitive skills. In both cases, the bias of contemporary academic science shows through: Extraordinary awareness which conflicts with consensus reality is a defect.

This bias is not surprising, nor is it even a negative if we are trying to get a handle on human psychology for purposes of treatment. The problem that I see, is that it closes the door on the deeper dimensions of psyche and fails to take seriously the implications of consciousness transcending classical physics. Once we do take a scientifically objective look at these implications, I think that we wind up with a theory of order and participation in the universe which is not limited to human psychology but extends beyond physics, information science, philosophy, and religion: A new scientific cosmology based on sense phenomena.

multisense-diametric

Consciousness and Evolution

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

My answer to Quora question

While human consciousness has certainly been shaped by evolution, that does not mean that consciousness itself could have evolved from non-consciousness. Whether we are talking about other species of animals or cells or organic molecules, the same issues which we run into in explaining human consciousness are still present at any scale. The issues of the hard problem of consciousness, explanatory gap, binding problem, and symbol grounding problem make the mind-body split just as relevant wither the ‘body’ is a brain, neuron, or subatomic particle. No matter what, you have to explain how an ‘interior world’ can ‘exist’ in a physical structure whose behavior is causally closed.

Whatever way you slice it, if we accept that T-cells can be effective in detecting and neutralizing threats on a cellular level without having consciousness, or that DNA can create cellular machines which build a brain without consciousness, then we are admitting that consciousness doesn’t make sense as a functional adaptation. The rest of the universe already works too well without it. There is nothing especially interesting about a hominid’s need for food and shelter which would demand rich awareness to develop out of blind reflex. Single celled organisms chase food, avoid danger, etc also.

We are then left with considering that either consciousness could somehow be an accident of evolution, or that consciousness may be intrinsic to all physical phenomena in some sense (panpsychism, panexperientialism) or even that consciousness is the universal substrate upon which all phenomena depends (idealism, idealist monism).

If consciousness is a mutation that has no functional role (a spandrel), we have to ask why it would even be a possibility. Remember that if consciousness is a mutation, we are assuming that there is a whole universe already in place which is overflowing with processes, biological and otherwise, which are perfectly capable of directing themselves effectively while being unconscious. It’s actually a radically anthropocentric cosmology since we are privileging our tiny piece of history in the universe as the only piece which is not devoid of experience. We are saying that everything that existed before humans was unconscious, therefore an invisible, intangible, silent void with no memory etc. If we are not intending that, and prefer to think that the universe looked, sounded, felt, and tasted just like it does for Homo sapiens since the dawn of time, then we would have to ask exactly what we think consciousness is adding to that kind of eternal-universal ‘unconsciousness’.

If consciousness is intrinsic to physical phenomena (as in Penrose-Hameroff’s microtubule-based Quantum Consciousness) or is intrinsic to information integration (as in Tononi-Koch’s IIT), we still have the same kind of mind-body problem. A ‘body’ which is a statistical function rather than a literal form in space is still falls short of explaining why and how there is any such thing as consciousness. In my view, only the idealist monist view, or what I call pansensitivity makes sense ultimately as the parent of both physics and information. Just as we learn to count on our fingers, all forms of information are representations of experiences which have an aesthetic foundation – a seeing, feeling, touching, thinking, etc. Without that sensory-motive context from the start, there would nothing to evolve; only abstractions in the dark (or not even dark). Once we can get over ourselves as a species and recognize that consciousness doesn’t begin and end with us, I think that awareness will be seen as the container of relativity itself, with quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology as a consequence of deeper stories rather than their originator.

Free Will Isn’t a Predictive Statistical Model

December 25, 2013 12 comments

Free will is a program guessing what could happen if resources were spent executing code before having to execute it.

I suggest that Free Will is not merely the feeling of predicting effects, but is the power to dictate effects. It gets complicated because when we introspect on our own introspection, our personal awareness unravels into a hall of sub-personal mirrors. When we ask ourselves ‘why did I eat that pizza’, we can trace back a chain of ‘because…I wanted to. Because I was hungry…Because I saw a pizza on TV…’ and we are tempted to conclude that our own involvement was just to passively rubber stamp a course of multiple-choice actions that were already in motion.

If instead, we look at the entire ensemble of our responses to the influences, from TV image, to the body’s hunger, to the preference for pizza, etc as more of a kaleidoscope gestalt of ‘me’, then we can understand will on a personal level rather than a mechanical level. On the sub-personal level, where there is processing of information in the brain and competing drives in the mind, we, as individuals do not exist. This is the mistake of the neuroscientific experiments thus far. They assume a bottom-up production of consciousness from unconscious microphysical processes, rather than seeing a bi-directional relation between many levels of description and multiple kinds of relation between micro and macro, physical and phenomenal.

My big interest is in how intention causes action

I think that intention is already an action, and in a human being that action takes place on the neurochemical level if we look at it from the outside. For the motive effect of the brain to translate into the motor effect of the rest of the body involves the sub-personal imitation of the personal motive, or you could say the diffraction of the personal motive as it is made increasingly impersonal, slower, larger, and more public-facing (mechanical) process.

Free Will and the Unconscious

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The key oversight, in my opinion, in the approach taken by neuroscientific research into free will (Libet et al) is in the presumption that all that is not available to us personally is ‘unconscious’ rather than conscious sub-personally. When we read these words, we are not conscious of their translation from pixels to patches of contrasting optical conditions, to loops and lines, to letters and words. From the perspective of our personal awareness, the words are presented as a priori readable and meaningful. We are not reminded of learning to read in kindergarten and have no feeling for what the gibberish that we are decoding would look like to someone who could not read English. The presentation of our world is materially altered at the sub-personal, but not ‘unconscious’ level. If it were unconscious, then we would be shocked to find that words were made of lines and loops or pixels.

In the same way, a robotic task is quickly anticipated, even 10 seconds ahead of time, without our personality getting involved. This does not mean that it is not ‘us’ making the choice, only that there is no need for such an easy and insignificant choice to be recognized by another layer of ‘us’, and reported by a third layer of ‘us’ to the personal layer of us.

When we work on the sub-personal level of neurons, we are addressing a layer of reality in which we, as persons, do not exist. Because we have not yet factored in perceptual relativity as a defining existential influence, we are making the mistake of treating a human being as if they were made of generic Legos instead of a single unique and unrepeatable living cell which has intentionally reproduced itself a trillion times over – each carrying the potential for intention and self-modifying teleology.

How do evolutionary psychology and neuroscience compare as popular theories to “explain everything” about human nature?

November 3, 2013 4 comments

“These two theories are the biggest explanatory frameworks at the current time, with neuroscience rising and evolutionary psychology looking a bit threadbare.  And they are quite different.

I don’t mean, are these valid theories scientifically, but how good are they as a way for people to tell meaningful stories to each other about human nature?  What do we become through that telling?  What gets left out?”

Answer by Craig Weinberg:

In Raymond Tallis’ book Aping Mankind, he describes the over-reaching of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and names them “Neuromania” and “Darwinitis”. While this assessment is likely seen as inflammatory or offensive to the many dedicated and brilliant professionals who have devoted their lives in pursuit of understanding human nature scientifically, his criticisms are quite defensible. Tallis, a neuroscientist himself, argues that both disciplines contribute to what I call de-presentation, and he calls ‘the disappearance of appearance’.

When neuroscience looks at human nature, it does so from the outside – as the behavior of cellular and molecular bodies, of organs and networks of ‘connections’. Evolutionary biology also looks at human nature from the outside, as the behavior of zoological ecosystems, species, and inherited bodies. Taken together, these super-personal systems and sub-personal systems can be de-ranged to completely subsume the personal, the private, and most significantly human aspects of human nature.

It is a bit like looking at human nature under a blacklight. With most of the frequencies in the dark, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have done a fantastic job of illuminating some hidden aspects of ourselves – how and where we fade into subconscious and unconscious mechanisms. We have glimpsed some of our own biases and seen behind the curtain of many misperceptions. We have not yet, however dared to turn this critical lens on itself. We have not seen how neuroscience and evolutionary biology themselves are excluded from the general distrust and marginalization of awareness. Somehow, the totality of our human experience can be written off as a solipsistic simulation or ’emergent property’ of ‘information’ processing, yet the mechanisms of science are presumed immune from the politics of our species and the unreality of the brain’s twitchings in the dark. Sam Harris actually said something to the effect of “certain kinds of thinking” extend outside of the bubble of human delusion (but without saying how).

What gets left out, according to Tallis, is humanity. Arts, literature, civilization. While he goes on in the second half of his book, to argue the profound difference between human beings and other species, I would argue that does make human beings more special than others on Earth, I would not say that it makes us an exception to zoology, or physics. Instead, I would argue for a radical reinterpretation of physics in which privacy and aesthetic appreciation are seen as more fundamental cosmological influences than public, functional mechanisms.

 

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